In the first two articles in this series I have tried to lay a foundation into the background into what were the dynamics involved as the Antioch incident where the men from James rebuked Peter, Barnabas, and Paul along with his church. These events, when properly understood, hold tons of important information that should be of interest to today's Christian if he truly desires to live a life pleasing to God. Failure to understand the truth behind the skewed pictures of the event in the New Testament guarantees the reader that his life will not prosper from such restored truth and hopefully his repentance in several areas of his life. This will become more apparent as we dig deeper.
We have made note previously that when Paul had his "revelation" on the Damascus road, Paul writes (Gal. 1:16-24) that he did not immediately confer with those who had been apostles before him; instead, he went due south to Arabia and then returned to Damascus. Only after three years did he visit Jerusalem for a fortnight's conference with Cephas (Peter); among the apostles he saw only their leaders, Cephas and James the Lord's brother. Presumably in consequence of this meeting he then went to "the regions of Syria and Cilicia," avoiding "the churches of Judaea" even though they had been informed of his conversion and his mission work. Paul implies, and we have no word from the Jerusalem church to state otherwise, that the Jerusalem leaders agreed with him that he should confine his activities to the Gentile mission; at any rate, he was not to work under the direct jurisdiction of Jerusalem or in proximity to it. He also implies that there was no question about the right of the apostles at Jerusalem to govern the churches of Judaea.
The church of Jerusalem was the church of the twelve apostles. From I Corinthians 15:5-7 it appears that their jurisdiction was based on appearances of the risen Christon the one hand, to Cephas, the Twelve, and a large group of disciples; on the other, to James and to "all the apostles." The list of appearances seems to reflect the combination of two groups of appearances which were especially related to Cephas and to James, and the authority of the Jerusalem church thus rested on a double foundation (Peter and James). Paul's own claim to apostolic authority was obviously parallel not to that of Cephas, who had been a disciple of Yeshua in Galilee and at Jerusalem, but to that of James, a convert only after the resurrection like himself. From the account in Galatians it is by no means clear that Cephas and James recognized Paul's apostolate when he first visited them. Indeed, it looks as if they waited for fourteen years before explicitly recognizing that by divine favor he had been entrusted with the mission to the gentiles (Gal. 2:7-9). If this is so, the leaders of the church of Jerusalem must have enjoyed a primacy greater than Paul not only in Judaea but also among Jews in other areas of the Christian world. Dear one this means that for all Messianic Jewry the Church of Yeshua in Jerusalem was the ONLY authority for the Yeshua's Movement even in Asia Minor where Paul would go later.
What happened after fourteen years was that Paul went to Jerusalem from Antioch, taking with him both Barnabas and a Greek convert named Titus. The purpose of the visit was to hold a private conference with the Jerusalem leaders and to set before them Paul's gospel to the gentiles (Gal.2:1-10). The results of this conference were extremely important for the later history of the Pauline mission and of the Christian church. Jewish Christians, under the influence of R. Shammai, continued to advocate the practice of circumcision for non-Jews although it was never required in the Laws of Noah; Paul indignantly rejected it and refused to have Titus circumcised. The leaders of the Messianic Movement within Judaism (church) agreed with Pauls position, and from them he apparently won the definite allocation of spheres of influence described in his letter. According to Paul the "pillar" apostles laid no additional requirements upon him, he says, and they recognized that by divine favor he had been entrusted with the gospel for the gentiles, just as Peter had been given it for the Jews. This statement by Paul is not true and we will see shortly in Acts 16 that there were several "additional requirements" called "necessary and which seemed good to the Holy Spirit by James" which Paul would not do nor agree to. Paul and Barnabas were henceforth to work with gentiles; James, Cephas, and John with Jews. In ratifying this agreement they shook hands with him and also required that he take up a collection in support of the Jerusalem community, presumably thus sealing the concordat. This collection from the non-Jews was evidently analogous to the tax which Jews paid for the support of the temple in Jerusalem.
Following Pauls second meeting with the Jerusalem Church following his 14 years absence difficulties arose immediately after Paul's return to Antioch, for the agreement Paul made with the Jerusalem Church was unworkable in communities consisting of both Jews and gentiles. This needs some explanation for you to grasp the hidden political and religious dynamics behind the scenes which prompted the meeting of the Acts 15 First Church Council.
Prior to the Acts 15 Council, and follow the revelation to Peter in Acts 10 and 11 where he learned non-Jews were clean Peter came to Antioch and at first observed the local Christian custom of eating meals, as a Jew, with Gentiles. Since there were evidently many Jews in the congregation, the more conservative among them presumably informed James, at Jerusalem, that the Jewish Messianic Movement within Judaism (Christianity) was being undermined by Paul and his congregation at Antioch.
James sent emissaries to insist that Jews should not eat with Gentiles, and his concern was respected not only by Peter but also by Barnabas and the other Jewish Christians (Gal. 2:11-13). There are many reasons for this repentance on the part of Peter, Barnabas, and other Jews at Antioch when the men from James appeared because as you will see under the teaching of Paul some of the Commandments in the Laws of Moses were being violated at table-fellowship with non-Jews as well as some of the Laws from the Covenant of Noah which pertained to these same non-Jews. In other words, in the effort to become all things to all men Paul had compromised many Commandments and the men from James would not let these breaches of Law pass nor such disobedience to the Word of God for expediency sake.
Answer for yourself: Why would James, the Lord's brother and head of the Jerusalem Church, command Jewish believers not to continue to eat with non-Jewish believers?
Answer for yourself: Is it possible that non-Jewish believers were sinning when they were eating and sharing table fellowship with the Jews, and in doing so tempting the Jews to follow in their sinful ways? Yes!
Answer for yourself: It is possible that at table fellowship in Antioch, between Jewish believers and non-Jewish believers, that important parts of the Laws of Noah from the Covenant of Noah, which were binding upon all non-Jewish believers, were being violated by Paul and the practice of his churches?
Answer for yourself: Had Paul justified the "breaking" and "bending" of these Noahide Covenant requirements and Laws in the hopes of "becoming all things to all men that he might win some"? He sure did. And the Christian Church today, under this same Covenant of Noah, sadly follows in the same footsteps and is not aware. This is the reason what the men from James continually dogged him in the New Testament everywhere he went. Paul's persecutions and "beatings" recorded in the New Testament are not from some stray Jews, they were not from "thugs"; rather it was from brothers from the Jerusalem Church who had been given a mandate by Yeshua before his ascension to teach all nations (Gentiles) to observe certain things (many of these things Paul would treat as if they did not exist or apply). These persecutions were simply the result of Paul violating the teachings of Yeshua and the Torah. But without a deep understanding of what comes next in these articles it is so easy to read Paul's accounts and feel sorry for him when we should be enraged against him. Paul defends himself by calling these righteous men who held up such standards of righteousness "Judaizers". Growing up in the church this term always had a "bad" connotation when in truth it is these "Judaizers" who were closest to Yeshua and were not compromising the Commandments of God like Paul and others. You can see how Paul literally blasphemes those keeping the Torah and relegates them all with the negative term "judaizers."
Along with this question we must factor in what we have already learned from the previous articles. Let me summarize:
At this point Paul could see that his own mission to the Gentiles was being endangered. Paul was literally trying to build a name for himself and promote his authority which had been rejected by both the Sadducees and the Pharisees. He had successfully claimed during his trip following his 14 year absence that circumcision was not to be required of Gentiles (never required in the Covenant of Noah), but if the Jewish dietary laws were to be observed, as thought by Paul, even by Jews in a mixed community, then both "freedom in Christ Jesus" (Gal.2:4) and the unity of the churches would be destroyed in Paul's estimation. Paul's ideas conflict with the Torah. The Jews were commanded to observe such Commandments forever (like kosher). There was no getting around this issue for a Jew and any table fellowship with non-Jews (take Antioch for example) would involve such issues. When the men from James came to the Antioch congregation they saw that at table fellowship between Jews and non-Jews that several breaches of the Covenant of Moses and the Laws of Noah were not being observed. Understand that such Laws of Noah are reiterated at Sinai and find their identity in the Laws of Moses as well.
Paul was caught red-handed if I might say so. He had two options:
It is not hard to see what occurred. Now read Galatians and Romans and you will begin to see through the charade. Paul therefore denounced Peter's action of repentance from violating kosher food laws when accused by the men from James and it is recorded for us completely different in that he asked him, "If you as a Jew live in gentile, not Jewish, fashion how can you compel the Gentiles to practice Judaism?" Unfortunately he does not report Peter's answer. But Peter's and Barnabas' actions give us their answer. After being reminded of their Covenant obligations and how they had broken and compromised them both Peter and Barnabas, according to Paul, they both left Paul's fellowship and the church moved next door! The New Testament only records the biased view from Paul's perspective but as I have showed you he was wrong and the men from James was right. Even Peter and Barnabas were taken away by such liberal compromise in the efforts to "win some". The Christian Church is guilty of the same today!
If the standards are lowered then it would be much easier to gain followers; thus bolstering Paul's reputation and authority. But the men from James, as well as James, knew better. This is why the men from Jerusalem was sent to "spy out" the situation at Antioch. At this time, regardless of what Paul would have you think according to his writings, the Jerusalem Church remained highly skeptical of Paul after 14 years. That is why the Jerusalem Church continually dogged Paul in every city where he went and reported his every action to the authorities in the Jerusalem Church. That is why Paul would be summoned twice to return to the Mother Church over problems for which he was the instigator. We see that in Acts 15 and Acts 21 where Paul had to report to James. Again we have only a one-sided account in the New Testament whereby he went up by revelation but dear one read between the lines once you have the facts.
The church was in disunity. As you can see one of the principal occasions of disunity within the early Messianic Movement was provided by the conversion and mission of the apostle Paul. An authoritative decision on such matters was necessary if unity was ever to be restored to the Messianic Movement. Such an authoritative decision is reflected in the account of a council at Jerusalem provided in the book of Acts (15:1-35). In many respects the account runs parallel to Paul's narrative in Galatians, but the two stories are basically different. According to Acts, the apostles and presbyters of the Jerusalem church held a public discussion on the question of circumcision. Peter made an address in which he pointed to his own work among Gentiles and insisted that circumcision was unnecessary. Paul and Barnabas described their work. Finally James proposed that, in view of Mosaic precedents [which again you remember many are but reiterations of the Noahide Laws], Gentile converts should be given four requirements based on Leviticus I7-I8. The apostles and elders agreed with James and composed a decree containing his four points. Again the practice of circumcision was dropped since it never was required by God in the Covenant of Noah and only enforced upon non-Jews by the School of Shammai as they hated non-Jews and used circumcision as a means to keep non-Jews from coming into religious fellowship with them as they held all non-Jews not worthy of the World to Come.
First of all let us look at the text:
28 For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things;
29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
This is James' decree at the Acts 15 Council which was prompted by the events at the Antioch incident earlier. Take note that the Messianic Community believed it "seemed good to the Holy Ghost" that these things be laid upon the non-Jewish believers. If the non-Jew would take upon himself these obligations and requirements which were ALREADY within the Covenant and Laws of Noah then table fellowship between the Jews and non-Jewish believers would not be a problem as it had been previously.
This "apostolic decree" is very important as the first pronouncement made by a Christian synod. Let us never forget that these decrees were over twenty years after the death and resurrection of Yeshua. This was what the Church of Yeshua considered "necessary" to impose upon non-Jewish believers in God.
In closing let us not forget that it would be the Apostle Paul who had failed to teach these dogmas and doctrines to his non-Jewish followers and would continue to not teach them after the Acts 15 Council. It is these very issues that would separate Paul from the Jerusalem Church finally in the latter years of his life. Because of Paul's refusal to accept the First Church's Council and their decision Gentile Christianity today stands outside of those things considered "necessary" and "good to the Holy Spirit".
It is to these issues we not turn as we try to regather truth long overlooked by Gentile Christianity which God commanded of us and still requires of us. Shalom.